Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Depression and Food Porn

So, it’s been awhile. That was predictable. It was a busy month – my sister in law got married in BC so that involved a cross-country trip with a small baby and all the related preparation and recovery afterwards.

But truthfully, it was more than that. Lately I haven’t really wanted to reflect on things, or write about things. I've been pretty down, so reflecting on things ain’t my jam at the moment. I’ve tried getting more sleep, going to a mom’s support group, and some other self-care techniques recommended when you’re trying to raise a tiny human and your brain is ready to ooze out through your ears.

It's helped a bit, but realistically, I know it's going to take me quite some time to get back to my old self - that's what happens with post-natal depression. There's no quick fix. But you can find moments of motivation. I'm still bummed. But I’ve been slightly kicked back into gear by a book, of all things.

For those of you who don’t know, Anthony Bourdain is the bad boy of the North American culinary scene. He spent years working in restaurant kitchens, is a recovering drug addict, and has traveled all over the world in search of amazing meals. His current TV program, Parts Unknown, involves him trekking all over the world and exploring the local culture through food, history, and sometimes politics. It’s super interesting and totally devoid of bullshit, and usually involves him getting a little tipsy.

He has an entire chapter dedicated to paragraph-long descriptions of phenomenal meals from through his life. From tacos on the streets of Panama to yakatori eaten at a Japanese sake lounge to pasta in the foothills of Italy, I was drooling by the end of it. Complete and utter food porn.

Time to start cooking like I mean it again. Here’s the most recent share-worthy creation:

Spicy Sriracha Endive Chicken Tacos (makes 8 tacos)

1 tbsp Sriracha chili sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
2 shakes liquid smoke (about 6 drops)
2 large chicken breasts (about 1 lb)
4 green onion stalks, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped into 1 cm cubes
3 small Belgian endive, separated into leaves
8 whole wheat tortillas
½ cup 2% greek yogurt
1 tsp cilantro
½ tsp ground thyme
2/3 cup shredded white cheddar (the stronger the better – I used a mix of Millbank organic old white cheddar and Fifth Town goat cheddar)

Whisk Sriracha sauce, olive oil, garlic, lemon and lime juice, chili powder, cumin, and liquid smoke into a marinade. Chop the chicken breasts into small chunks and add to marinade. Let the chicken marinate for 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Add chicken, marinade and all, to a frying pan and cook on medium heat until chicken is cooked through. Add orange pepper and onions, and cook until they begin to let off moisture.  Drain off the excess moisture and marinade from the pan, return to low heat, and add the endive. Cook until endive just begins to wilt.

Stir together the yogurt, cilantro and thyme and set aside.

Warm tortillas in the oven until soft.

Assemble tacos and top with cheddar and yogurt. 

Serve with a good local beer. The Junction Brewery is a current favourite.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Mommy Training

Bear with me kids, this is going to be a bit of a long one. I’ve been brewing this rant for a while now.

I have a bone to pick with the parenting book industry. Drew and I have always taken the same approach when we’re facing an unknown scenario – we read as much as we can get our hands on. And it will, on occasion, become a baffling mess in our heads. This is what happened with the parenting books. A few of them are great, but many of them are over-the-top fear mongering, and others are just roll-with-it to the point of not actually offering any advice or suggestions for problem solving.

The first was the whole breastfeeding shambles. Every book we picked up trumpeted the benefits of breastfeeding. We get it. Breastfeeding has only become normalized again in the last 20 years or so after a brutal takedown by the formula industry began in the early 50’s, and women still face unacceptable harassment challenges trying to feed their children, especially in public. *SIDENOTE: Any new moms out there who have not checked out the nursing lounge at Toronto Eaton Centre should do so – it is lovely with really big comfy chairs.*

That being said, if I am reading a book on breastfeeding, safe to say I’m probably sold on the idea. I don’t need to be convinced, I need to know what to do when I face challenges. Instead we get “YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO FEED YOUR BABY BREASTFEEDING IS NATURAL AND EASY. IT'S PROBABLY JUST YOUR LATCH.”

Ok. But when you end up having three days of failure to progress labour before a failed induction, fetal distress and an emergency c-section, your milk may not come in right away. So your newborn ends up dropping 16% of their birth weight in 4 days before you know there’s an issue because they’re still giving the recommended output. Then you see three different lactation consultants (including one that sets you back $100.00 for an hour long session, 2/3 of which is her taking a history irrelevant to the problem at hand and cumulates with the incredible wisdom nugget “just keep doing what you’re doing.”) as well as your midwives but no one catches the tongue-tie until 11 weeks. In the meantime, you’ve had to formula supplement because weight gain is still under the 15th percentile despite the fact that your baby never stops eating, and some of the more militant breastfeeding advocates make you feel like you may as well be giving your child poison even though the alternative is that she NOT GET ENOUGH TO EAT.

So by week 2 we’ve pretty much failed lefty WASP parenting 101.

Whatever. I’m so over it. I gave my daughter formula supplements rather than let her continue to go hungry. While she now has established feeding and gets very little by way of formula each day, we will probably never have her on breast milk exclusively – my supply never caught up because it took so long to catch the tongue-tie. And I’m pissed, because I can’t help but feel if I had begun the process with fewer lectures and more practical advice that would not be the case.

The second advice jamboree is sleep and sleeping arrangements. Good Lord. Like you’re not scared enough about sleep as a new parent, the very thought of SIDS enough to make you want to stay up for weeks on end ready to poke at your newborn at the first sigh or cough. Then come the recommendations on minimizing risk and fostering “healthy sleep habits”:



We ended up getting a little travel crib to put in our room and it has been fine. But now that Ellie is four months, our pediatrician has recommended that we start sleep training. Which opens up a whole other can of worms. Once again, we are swimming against the current. We are going against the grain. We are, god forbid, listening to our pediatrician.

We, ladies and gentlemen, are crying it out.

To be fair, it’s not without really compelling evidence that this is the best method for us, and only now that she’s old enough to handle it. I get that babies can’t “manipulate” their parents as some old-school proponents of crying it out claim, but babies do start making associations by 4 months and so the sooner they get that bedtime is for sleeping, the better. Ellie does not get this. Bedtime, to Ellie, is for talking. And being picked up. And talking. And having Drew shake her duck rattle in front of her face for 10 minutes non-stop. And talking. And eating her feet. And talking.

Ellie is, to put it mildly, an extrovert. We can play for hours (and we do) and I’ll be exhausted long before she is. Getting her down for a nap during the day is a 10-step process that at her most difficult includes her noise machine, swaddling, her swing, AND a pacifier after a massive feeding. She’s known to wake up at 4 am and just babble. She gets mad at us when we leave the room for a minute because that means she has no one to talk to – she sits in her swing and grumbles. The advice of her doctor is that without sleep training, she will never learn to settle, and trying to train her as a toddler would be even more of a nightmare, so here we are.

It has not been my favourite thing ever. Listening to her cry and not going to her immediately is counter intuitive, but it has been almost a week and she is starting to get that bedtime is bedtime, and she’s really none the worse for wear.

I have however, been hesitant to say that this is the case. It seems that cry-it-out has a really bad rap, and I really don’t want to feel like the worst mom ever. We are doing it with love though and making sure that she gets lots of reassurance during the day, and it seems to be really effective. I guess this is one of the issues with being a parent in the age of instant information – it’s also the era of instant judgment and instant doubt. Really, you just do the best you can to let them know they are loved and try and not screw them up. People would tell me that but I never really got how true it is.

At any rate, thanks for listening. 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Enjoy the Silence

As you’re probably aware, Ontario is currently in the middle of a Provincial election. It is the first time in almost 10 years that I have been involved in a campaign only marginally.  I am volunteering for my local candidate, Jonah Schein (pending Ellie cooperation) at least once a week, but am not completely steeped in the campaign every waking moment, not by a long shot.

That's one fine lookin' lawn sign.

With this, comes an almost crushing sense of guilt, which is irrational, I know, but cannot be helped. In a lot of ways, political activists seem to have an unspoken competition with one another during election campaigns – who can sleep less, eat less, basically drive themselves towards an early grave faster. It was honestly kind of fun in some ways. Definitely exhilarating.

The environment I worked in undoubtedly has had an impact on my health in the long term. One of the reasons that I began practicing yoga is for the stress reduction aspect – I spent my 30th birthday in the ER after experiencing severe chest pains that turned out to be an anxiety attack. I had numb patches in my legs that were so bad that I was tested for MS – it turned out to be nothing more than nerve compression related to muscle tension. It was crazy. It also forced me to take a good long look at how I treated myself, and led to me being much more conscious of how I treated my body and what kind of pressure I put myself under.

While this health crisis did make me change the way I approached my work, it remained a very busy and draining way to make a living - especially during campaigns. Campaigns meant 60-70 hour weeks (at least) and the highest highs mixed with the lowest lows. That’s just the way it was.  Observing a campaign now as a citizen (albeit highly engaged) instead of staffer is a really strange sensation. It’s very, very quiet.

At the end of the day, I am going to make an effort to let go of guilt and to absorb the experience as a citizen rather than as a staffer – do only what I’m able to and no more, and to allow my life and it’s needs to remain a priority for the first time in a loooong time. 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014


I just had my first Mother’s Day as a mother. As requested, it was understated. All I really wanted to do was stay in my pajamas and eat a lot of bacon, so dreams really do come true.

It’s still kind of strange to think of myself as someone’s mom. Still getting used to it. It’s making me re-think my entire identity. It’s making me re-think a lot of things.

My mom was down for the weekend, which is always wonderful. Took her to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning. This is the last weekend that the market is inside and then it moves outdoors again. Can hardly wait. Love the outdoor market. Love the indoor market too, but there’s something about the outdoors.

A busy Saturday morning at the market.

At any rate, it was a lovely weekend with plenty of visits from family.  I debuted a new recipe, and am sharing it here. I am also trying to re-think fruit right now, so decided that pears might work in a stir-fry.

Chicken stir-fry with pear and baby bok choy
(makes 4 servings)

1 ½ lbs chicken breasts, cut into strips
½ cup soy sauce
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tbsp ground dry ginger (or ½ tbsp fresh ginger finely chopped)
1 tbsp olive oil
½ lb baby bok choy, separated into leaves and roughly chopped
2 medium-sized bartlett pears, cut into strips
¼ cup green onions, finely chopped
¼ cup mushrooms, finely chopped
1 package thin rice vermicelli

Whisk together the soy sauce, mustard and ginger. Fold in the chicken strips and allow to marinate in refrigerator for one hour.

Add olive oil to wok, add chicken and marinade and begin to cook over medium heat. Once cooked through, remove the chicken from the pan to an oven safe bowl and set aside.

Add bok choy, pears, onions and mushrooms to pan and lightly sauté until bok choy begins to wilt.  Return chicken to the pan and fold in veggies. Reduce heat.

Cook rice vermicelli according to package directions. Do not overcook.

Divide vermicelli into four servings and plate. Top with veggies and chicken.


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Stuff that in your pepper and smoke it. Or eat it. Whatever.

One of the things that happened to Drew and I when we became parents was a sudden hyper-awareness of the fact that we should be taking better care – of ourselves, the planet, of our fellow humans. While we have never really been slouches in that department - we have always tried to respect the environment as a whole and shop ethically - it has until now lacked the rather intense commitment that is now part of our lives. A purge is underway in our household, one that will hopefully leave us healthier people and make us better global citizens.

It began by signing up to two grocery delivery services: Mama Earth Organics, which delivers organic produce and other groceries weekly within the GTA, and a subscription to the Honest Company, a US company which delivers non-toxic, organic, plant-based household and personal care supplies on a monthly basis. A weekly trip to the Wychwood Barns farmer’s market, with occasional trips to Bulk Barn and our local Portuguese butcher shop round out our grocery needs. Let me tell you, there is REALLY something to be said for having most of your groceries delivered. 

I dearly wish that I could grow more of my own produce, but a highly shaded yard in combination with my own brown thumbs means my few attempts at plant cultivation have never resulted in anything other than frustration, so this is one area I will leave to the professionals. I have way more luck with the cooking aspect of food preparation.

Cutting out major grocery chains has been freeing in a way I never anticipated – it forces one to be creative about menu planning, but has also led to me re-discovering my love of experimenting in the kitchen. I will be posting my most successful creations here – beginning with last night’s success story.

Sausage and Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
(makes 4 stuffed peppers)

2 red bell peppers
½ lb (approx 3) pork or turkey sausages
½ cup quinoa
½ cup chopped white mushrooms
½ cup chopped black kale
½ cup chopped green onions
½ cup crumbled feta (I used sheep feta but whatever floats your boat)
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp Montreal steak spice
2 tbsp olive oil

Begin by slicing each red pepper into two equal halves.  Remove seeds and membranes, and line the inside of each pepper with some crumbled feta cheese.

In a frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat until warm.   Add sausage and sautee until almost cooked through.  Remove from heat and chop sausage into rounds approx ¼” wide.  Return sausage to the pan.

Add the mushrooms, kale and onions to the pan.  Sautee until sausage is cooked through (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.  Toss in the Montreal steak spice and allow to cool for a few minutes.

In a saucepan, bring two cups of water to a boil.  Drop in the bay leaves and allow to steep for two minutes. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Add the quinoa and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the water is absorbed (around 10-15 minutes).

Add the quinoa to the sausage mixture and toss until well combined.  Set aside.

Place the pepper halves in a glass or ceramic baking dish large enough so they are not crowded.  The dish should be lightly greased with olive oil.

Divide the sausage mixture amongst the four halves of each pepper, gently pressing the mixture down into each half.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until peppers are beginning to soften and the top layer of quinoa is beginning to go golden brown.  Allow to stand for 2 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Song of Myself

Do I contradict myself? 
Very well then I contradict myself, 
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
-Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

While I find the actual poetic work a bit of an odyssey of ego, this particular stanza of Mr. Whitman's famous poem has always spoken to me, and spoken to the oddness I have always felt within - my difficulty in reconciling different aspects of my personality. This has never felt as apparent as it has in the past few months, as I experience life as a stay at home mom to my new baby daughter, Ellie.

She is already my world, both literally and figuratively.

To me, it never really made sense that some progressive individuals looked upon women who stayed at home with their children as failures of feminism - respecting women means respecting their choices, after all - but I never really thought of it as a choice I would make until the last few years.  And now that I'm in it, I'm finding the actual experience stranger than I ever anticipated. 

Time, for example, has started having an odd property to it. I feel like I get little to nothing done on a day to day basis and it takes me forever to do it. My OCD means that letting the house go to shambles with a baby taking over is not an option for me - I require a certain level of cleanliness to function. By the time I finish loading the dishwasher and tossing a load of laundry in the dryer, I need a nap because the middle of the night feeding is catching up with me. The never ending winter we have experienced means that long walks have only recently become an option, so add in a lack of sunlight and I'm one wonky lady.

One may be tempted to ask "Why not just let your husband do the dishes and the laundry?" He does, but I try to take on as much of the housework as possible.  Why? The answer is simple - because dumping all the housework's not fair to him either. He has to function in a sphere I don't have to right now. If Ellie has a bad night, I can stay in my pyjamas all day and have a mid-afternoon cry (and, if she cooperates, a mid-afternoon nap!). He can't.  So I look at it as a balance in our partnership to tackle the lion's share of the domestic stuff and ensure we are not wallowing in our own crapulence.

I started this blog because I feel like I need a reporting system that will force me to report on the things I used to do, and that I actually enjoy: crafting (badly), yoga, and cooking. My current goal is to post something once a week while Ellie sleeps or plays with her dad - something that serves as a touchstone to other aspects of my life besides motherhood. 

I don't want it to sound as though I am unhappy - the exact opposite is true. But the first fifteen weeks of my daughter's life have been so all-consuming I know that I need to make an effort to re-charge in some way - Eleanor Brownn once said "you cannot serve from an empty vessel" and this blog represents an effort I am making to ensure my vessel remains full.